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John Deere GM toy tractor in box
INTERESTING HISTORY: This collectible toy tractor was issued to commemorate John Deere’s 75 years of support for National FFA. It happens to be the GM, a tractor model with an interesting history.

John Deere tractor hints at wartime history

Throwback Tech: You may not have heard of the John Deere GM, but it tells its own story.

It all started with a Christmas present. My wife, Carla, gave me a toy tractor that I didn’t have. In fact, I’d never heard of the John Deere GM. Sure, I’ve heard of the John Deere G, but not the GM.

The 1/16 scale replica was produced by Ertl to celebrate Deere’s 75th anniversary of supporting the National FFA Organization. The anniversary was commemorated by the National FFA at the 2018 National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, getting a jump on history. The partnership began in 1945, but since Deere celebrated 100 years of making tractors in 2019, the FFA arranged for Doug Walker, Delphi FFA advisor, Delphi, Ind., and his students to restore a 1945 John Deere B and present it to Deere company officials at the 2018 convention.

Ertl chose the GM to celebrate the anniversary, a model also produced in 1945. I decided I wanted to know more about the GM. I thought I knew about every model Deere produced before 1960. Obviously, I missed one.

Tie to World War II

According to tractordata.com, the G Series was produced from 1937 into 1953. Models produced through 1942 were unstyled, with no cowling over the radiator. Deere stopped production in the fall of 1942 as materials ran short.

The GM, with the M standing for “modernized,” rolled off the line in early 1943. Supposedly, the GM carried a new designation so the company could ask for and receive permission for a price increase from the government.

Deere soon suspended production of the GM, and it remained out of production for two years. In 1945, the three-plow GM was reinstated, and production continued into 1947, when Deere dropped the “M” and produced styled G models.

Depending on which internet source you choose, Deere produced 1,500 to 2,000 GM models altogether. It was rated at just over 20 hp at the drawbar but produced over 34 hp in Nebraska tractor tests.

The history of the GM tractor is laid out carefully in “Original John Deere Letter Series Tractors, 1923-1954,” a book by Brian Rukes and Andy Kraushaar.

Broad war effort

There is much more to Deere’s involvement in the war effort during World War II. At usautoindustryworldwartwo.com, David Jackson points to other Deere involvement. Some of this is also chronicled in the John Deere Tractor Museum in Waterloo, Iowa.

Like some auto manufacturers and some other tractor companies, Deere produced material for the government and the war effort. In Deere’s case, that included ammunition, parts for fighter planes and transmissions for military tanks. It also included tractors specially designed for use by the military.

Deere had over 1,000 military contracts during the war, and even formed a separate company, the Iowa Transmission Co., to build some of the tank transmissions. That company won no less than five awards from the Navy for its efforts. Deere was the only company that produced M-8 armored military, two-wheel supply trailers towed behind various vehicles, including tanks.

In 1943, Deere plowed 1,000 gardens for employees so they could grow food. That was also considered important to the war effort.

Comments? Email tom.bechman@farmprogress.com.

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